Deborah Moorad was named the new CEO of CorriXR Therapeutics, taking over from founder Dr. Eric Kmiec, who becomes chief scientific officer. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CORRIXR THERAPEUTICS
Founded by Dr. Eric Kmiec, who also heads ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute and has been a leading national researcher in the use of the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR, CorriXR has long been planning to add a CEO, allowing Kmiec to return more fully to the lab.
Moorad previously served as CEO of Nebraska-based Nature Technology Corp., a firm that manufactures plasmids used in the biotherapeutics industry. It was sold last year to Aldevron, a larger contract development and manufacturing organization.
An Oklahoma native who will split her time between there and Delaware, Moorad said her connection to CorriXR came through a bit of serendipity as she attended the annual BIO Conference earlier this year and ran into old friend Chris Yochim, who serves as chair of the Delaware BioScience Association.
“Chris asked what I would think of a company if they could do XYZ with CRISPR. And I was like, ‘That would be phenomenal.’ I think in that moment when he was telling me about CorriXR, he must have been text messaging Eric too,” Moorad recalled with a laugh.
Moorad grew up thinking she’d go to medical school and become a surgeon but found in college that she was drawn more to research labs. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and followed that with a Master of Business Administration.
After college, she got a chance to work on a repurposed drug for glioblastoma and she was able to advance it to human trials. Today, the small-molecule drug is actually still being used in therapy, she said.
That experience led to an executive role with dental supply manufacturer Dentsply Sirona and at the helm of Nature Tech, working through acquisitions at both.
“I never really started out wanting to be a CEO. For me, it was more that I just want to take research and move it forward,” she said.
With CorriXR, Moorad will get a chance to advance the CRISPR science that Kmiec calls a “genetic spell-checker” that is able to correct inherited diseases like sickle cell diseases and cystic fibrosis. The startup has developed unique CRISPR and biomolecular tools to disable a gene of a tumor cell but not the healthy cell, making it possible to select a target to treat.
Moorad said that she aims to allow Kmiec to focus on the company’s drug pipeline and find the next innovations while she prepares for what comes afterward.
“My role in this is to give him that freedom and for him to educate me and continue to educate me as we’re developing new science and technology,” she said, noting that she can help organize clinical trials and the regulatory aspects of the operation.
The firm is first targeting squamous cell carcinoma in the head and neck, but also hopes to advance work on glioblastoma quickly as well. Moorad said that the Phase I trial on its drug should begin in late 2024 or early 2025.
In the interim, she will work with Kmiec on the raising of CorriXR’s Series A fundraising round with private investors. To date, the firm has been working off at least $2 million in seed funding raised in its formation, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records. Moorad said that she expects local investors in Delaware and Oklahoma to want to support CorriXR, as well as larger investment firms.
“It’s a chess game. You’re trying to strategically move forward, and that’s even with the science because every single day you’re working with something that just doesn’t work yet,” she said. “You have to be able to pivot and move your pieces along that board strategically.”